Exploring Alternative Shipping Methods for Ecommerce Businesses
by Scott Riddle
Scott Riddle is the Chief Operating Officer of FirstMile, the shipping carrier uniquely built to optimize and control your ecommerce shipping experience — delivering orders faster while spending less. FirstMile lets you take advantage of 50 million packages in purchasing power, offering the best combination of price and service, all using data-driven technology to deliver a complete, end-to-end service experience. As COO, Scott is in charge of aligning and operationalizing the company's fundamental principles, finding efficiencies for clients, and developing creative solutions for today's ecommerce business challenges.
Shipping is a critical part of any ecommerce business. But with so many options available, knowing which one is best for your needs can take time and effort. From traditional carriers like UPS and FedEx to alternative options like local or regional carriers, understanding the advantages of each can help you make an informed decision about which type of shipping is most suitable for your business.
But why should you consider exploring alternative shipping methods in the first place? Generally, if you're looking to save on costs and improve operational convenience, consider other shipping methods. For example, local and regional carriers often have lower rates than larger national ones. This can save you money on shipping costs and help make your ecommerce business more competitive. Additionally, these carriers may provide faster delivery times than traditional carriers - a significant advantage when it comes to customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Alternative Shipping Methods
There are three primary options to consider if you want to take a break or work with traditional carriers: local, regional, and hybrid. Let's take a closer look at each one.
Local carriers typically provide shipping services to customers within a limited geographic area, such as a city or county. It's often the most cost-effective option if you're looking to ship items to customers in your region.
Pros & Cons of Local Carriers
- Cost-effective for local shipments
- Faster delivery times
- High level of customer service
- Limited geographic area coverage
- Fewer tracking features and insurance options
Fun fact: Local delivery service has grown from 2018 to 2023 and is currently a $157.2 billion market. This growth is expected to continue for a while, thanks to the service's high convenience and low cost.
Regional carriers can provide services to customers across a broader region, such as an entire state or multiple states. They typically offer competitive rates for longer distance shipments and can be an excellent option if you're looking to broaden your reach and expand your business.
Pros & Cons of Regional Carriers
- Competitive rates for long-distance shipments
- Broader geographic area coverage
- More tracking features and insurance options than local carriers
- It can be more expensive than local carriers
- It may take longer to deliver shipments
Fun fact: Did you know? Working with a regional carrier can save your ecommerce brand 10%-40% in shipping costs compared to only working with major carriers like USPS and FedEx.
Hybrid carriers are a combination of traditional and alternative shipping methods. They offer both local and regional services, so you can pick and choose the one that's best for each shipment. This gives you the flexibility to work with different carriers for different needs, making it a perfect option if you're looking for custom solutions.
Pros & Cons of Hybrid Carriers
- Flexible, customizable solutions
- Cost-effective rates for both local and regional shipments
- Access to more tracking features and insurance options than local carriers
- It may be more task-demanding and slower than working with a single carrier
Overall, consider hybrid carriers if you're looking for a shipping option with much cheaper postage rates.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Alternative Shipping Method
When choosing an alternative shipping method, there are several factors to consider. Here's a quick breakdown:
The farther away you are from a primary carrier's hub, the more expensive shipping with them will be. Consider regional or hybrid carriers if this is the case.
Again, regional or hybrid carriers may be more cost-effective if you ship to customers in different regions. On the flip side, you want to use a local carrier if the customer is in the same city or town.
Type of product sold
Some products require additional protection (like fragile items) or special handling. Make sure the carrier you choose can provide these services.
The volume of shipments
Larger or heavier packages will generally require more expensive services, so it's important to consider cheaper options that still offer reliable delivery.
The cost of shipping can significantly impact your bottom line, so you'll want to choose a cost-effective option that fits your budget.
Desired delivery time frame
While the delivery time largely depends on the customer or business location, some carriers are more reliable and efficient in their timing than others. Consider this when deciding which carrier to use.
How to Implement Alternative Shipping Methods
After choosing an alternative shipping method, the next step is to implement it. This involves integrating the carrier's services with your website or platform and ensuring customers can easily access them. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Work with a 3PL Partner
Depending on your chosen shipping service, you may need to consolidate multiple carriers into one. But navigating this route alone can be time-consuming and complex. Instead, it may be best to utilize a reliable third-party logistics (3PL) partner like that can handle the integration process for you. FirstMile can help manage shipping by consulting on the packaging, leveraging carrier networks, and offering optimized delivery routes/options. So if you're looking to save on costs and create time to focus on what you're best at, consider outsourcing the complexity of multi-carrier shipping to a partner with deep transportation expertise.
Develop an Automated Process
Integrating your shipping service should make fulfilling orders faster and easier. You'll want to create an automated system that lets customers quickly select their preferred shipping option, pay for it, and track their orders in real-time.
Invest in Shipping Software
Shipping software can help you quickly print labels, set up rules for rates, create packing lists, generate reports on shipping performance, and more. It's an excellent way to save time and optimize the shipping process. Investing in the right software can also help you find ways to reduce costs and reduce waste.
When choosing an alternative shipping method for your ecommerce business, many options are available. Local, regional, and hybrid carriers offer different benefits and drawbacks, so you'll want to consider each carefully before deciding. In addition, ensure to factor in your customer and business locations, the types of products you're shipping, your volume of shipments, the cost-effectiveness of the option, and the desired delivery time frame.
All in all, if you're looking for an all-inclusive solution that combines the benefits of local, regional, and traditional carriers, a hybrid shipping service is for you! The hybrid approach allows you to leverage the unique advantages of regional and local carriers, such as faster delivery times and more flexible pickup and delivery options. Businesses can optimize their shipping strategy based on their specific needs by using a hybrid approach that combines national carriers with regional and local carriers.